By Kimberly Seals Allers, Director, First Food Friendly Community Initiative; and Co-Founder of Black Breastfeeding Week
Yes, breastfeeding is the optimal nutrition for babies. But breastfeeding has never really been just about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is about rethinking societal norms for infant feeding, overcoming systemic barriers and improving workplace accommodations. It’s about understanding corporate influences and profit-making interests—the same ones that want us to feed our babies artificial food from birth and then flood our communities with poor food options. Layer that on top of the cultural nuances of breastfeeding for black women, including the historical trauma of wet nursing, the lack of community support and the proliferation of infant formula marketing in our communities, and you have an even thornier issue. It is no wonder that for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates between black women and white women.
It is also unacceptable.
Two years ago, I joined forces with two amazing breastfeeding advocates to designate August 25-31st as Black Breastfeeding Week—a special week-long awareness campaign to close out National Breastfeeding Awareness Month designed to celebrate the power of breastfeeding in our community. As we see it, breastfeeding is more than giving our children the unparalleled immunological benefits and reduced risk of ear infections, respiratory infections and Type II diabetes. It is more than understanding that breastfeeding gives our children the best start at healthy eating habits for life. Breastfed children are more likely to have a varied and more healthy eating palette because breastmilk tastes differently at each feeding so breastfed children have been introduced to various flavors each day versus infants who are fed artificial substitutes which taste exactly the same, every time for their first year of life.
But beyond that we see breastfeeding as an act of empowerment and self-determination. It’s one of the many ways mothers commit and invest to giving their children the best possible start in life. We don’t have to look far into the news events to see black children being undermined, undervalued and under attack by negative media narratives. It is time that we lift our children up and over the many systemic barriers and cultural forces that often prevent them from reaching their fullest potential. This starts at birth.
With that in mind, the theme for this year’s Black Breastfeeding Week is “Lift Every Baby” taking a cue from our black national anthem, along with the 2015 tagline: Breastfeeding: So Strong. So Us. Lift Every Baby reminds us of all the ways that black families and communities lift up and nurture our youngest and most vulnerable members. From breastfeeding to early literacy to quality schools and good nutrition, we’re celebrating and sharing ideas on how we lift our babies—one child at a time.
On August 29th at 3pm EST, noon PST there will be the first-ever nationally coordinated LIFT UP in various cities across America. Black families will gather in predetermined locations to lift up their babies together as a visual display of community support of our children. We have over eight cities participating including Brooklyn, Charlotte, Oakland, CA, Milwaukee,WI, Athens, GA, and Philadelphia. Whether your “baby” is 8 months old or 8 years old, if you can lift them up, you can join the Lift Up. I’ll be there with my “baby” who is 11 years old!Throughout the week we will have various social media events to spread the Lift Every Baby theme, including our signature annual twitter chat on August 27th at 9pm ET. Our debut Twitter chat had over 10 million impressions and this year’s hashtag is #LiftEveryBaby.
In strength and solidarity,
Kimberly Seals Allers, founder Black Breastfeeding 360°